Electronic or digital payments have been growing steadily in Bangladesh for the last several years, thus helping the country to boost revenue collection and reduce currency printing costs.
A total of 180 crore transactions worth nearly Tk 23 lakh crore, which is six times the current year's national budget, were made through digital platforms in 2016, according to a study conducted by the Bangladesh Institute of Bank Management.
“This is exponential growth,” said Mahbubur Rahman Alom, an associate professor of BIBM, adding that transactions through the electronic channel have been doubling almost every year in the last five years.
Most of the transactions are being conducted through the mobile financial services platform, followed by ATM, and the least by internet banking, according to the BIBM study.
The benefits of cashless transactions are enormous as it reduces the scope for tax avoidance on real estate purchases, curbs generation of black money, reduces the costs of currency printing and its management, is less risky and frictionless, experts said.
“More cashless transactions can improve transparency and reduce tax dodging,” said Abul Kashem Mohammad Shirin, managing director of Dutch-Bangla Bank, which is one of the pioneers in digital payment in Bangladesh.
Dutch-Bangla has the country's highest number of ATMs and the biggest agent banking network along with a good number of point of sales terminals and mobile banking, all of which is helping the bank reduce operating costs. “Now our cash and electronic transactions are 50:50.”
Dutch-Bangla had to invest to set up the infrastructure for all the digital payment platforms, but now its operating costs are decreasing day by day. “The cost of an electronic transaction is one-fourth that of human-given services,” he said.
Still, digital payments account for only one percent of the country's total transactions a year, according to Syed Mohammad Kamal, country manager of MasterCard, one of the leading electronic payment solutions providers in the world. Kamal, however, said electronic transactions in e-commerce platforms have been growing 15 to 25 percent a year, which is helping Bangladesh to become less of a cash-reliant society.
The e-commerce market now stands at more than Tk 400 crore a year and is expected to grow manifold. But costly internet and inconvenient payment stand on the way to smooth growth of the sector.
Today, almost 90 percent of the e-commerce transactions are cash-on-delivery. Kamal sees a lack of awareness among stakeholders and individuals about the benefits of electronic payment systems in Bangladesh.
“National ID card can be used as a payment-cum ID card to include all adults in the payment system,” said Kamal, citing Nigeria and Egypt as examples.
Also, the government subsidies, which are to the tune of around $4 billion a year, could be disbursed through the electronic systems to reduce pilferage.
“But that won't happen automatically -- there must be some kind of incentive to promote digital payments in the country,” Kamal added. Meanwhile, the MFS platform has grown significantly over the last couple of years.
According to Bangladesh Bank data, the sector has grown 120 percent per year since 2011, transacting over $1.3 billion per month, said a recent report jointly produced by Better Than Cash Alliance and A2i.
While MFS has increased person-to-person transactions, it failed to encourage business-to-business or person-to-business transactions.